KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With his development suddenly on a fast track, Erik Palmer-Brown still is keeping an even keel.
“I'm ready for it,” Sporting Kansas City's Homegrown center back told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “Whatever I have to do for the team. I feel like it's a great opportunity for me, and I'm just here for the team.”
Sporting manager Peter Vermes has said that Ike Opara's season-ending ankle injury will mean competitive minutes this season for Palmer-Brown, who turns 17 on Thursday. He hasn't set a target date for the young defender's debut, though.
“I have no idea,” Vermes said, “but when I say 'accelerated,' I mean getting him more and more prepared so that if we do need him, he's ready to go.”
Palmer-Brown is coming off his first stint with the US Under-20 team, featuring throughout the tournament as the U-20s finished second in the Dallas Cup.
“I saw one of the games,” Vermes said. “I thought he played very well. I thought he was a real strong player in the back for them. Those games are all going to be important for him moving forward, and now it's just getting him back and adapted and adjusted to us.”
And, with Opara's injury, getting him ready to play for his club if need be.
“When you put a guy like him in at this level in an MLS game, it's just going to be a learning curve,” Vermes said. “You hope for a couple of things. One, you hope that he's very concentrated and extra attentive, and he plays with confidence. The other is that you hope the guys, the elder statesmen with the experience, are the guys who help to bring him along.”
Palmer-Brown's 6-foot-1 frame has filled out to 175 pounds since he turned professional last summer, but physical development is only half the equation, both he and Vermes said.
“You've got to be focused for the whole game,” Palmer-Brown said. “The game's a lot quicker – bigger, stronger, faster guys. I've got to be smart on the ball, too. So really, it's going to come down to how confident I am and how I work with the team.”
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Palmer-Brown has made progress on both fronts, Vermes said, but his age can't be discounted.
“I think in all the aspects of his game since he's been with us, he's definitely developed,” he said. “He's still a young kid, and he's trying to develop into a man's body. There are situations where you kind of forget that he's 16-17 years old, and sometimes that's good and sometimes that's bad. There's still a lot of other development that he has to do.
“Some of that's emotional, some of that's psychological, and we have to be mindful of that. But it's usually something you only forget for a short period of time.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.